Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic comprises one of 14 British Overseas Territories, often called Dependent Territories and previously, Crown Colonies. Habitation began in 1764, and the resident population currently stands at approximately 2500, excluding 2000 military personnel based at Mount Pleasant. The Falklands comprise 2 main islands and approximately 750 smaller islands, mostly uninhabited, stretching some 12, 200 Sqkm.

The Falkland Islands lie 463km northeast of Tierra del Fuego off the southern tip of the South American Continent. As such both Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands share an Endemic Bird Area (EBA). The Falklands only has 2 endemic species of bird, viz. the Cobb’s wren and the Falkland streamer duck, but shares 4 other species of South American bird species in its EBA. Nevertheless, 219 species of bird have been recorded. There are 140 occasional visitors, 21 resident land birds, 18 water birds and 22 breeding sea bird species, same number as Gough Island.

Charles Darwin visited the Falklands on his voyage to the Galapagos Islands in March 1833 and 1834. He was decidedly non-complimentary about the islands in general. However, it is worth noting that even 179 years ago, the Falkland Islands that Darwin found were not pristine, “these animals (wild horses), as well as the cattle, were introduced by the French in 1764, since which time both had greatly increased.” The settlements of Darwin and Fitzroy bear his name and the HMS Beagle’s captain’s.

Falklands flora yields 171 taxa of which 14 taxa are endemic with 168 species of moss. 350 insects have been recorded with 3 terrestrial marine mammals. The indigenous warrah or Falkland fox was hunted to extinction in 1876. Darwin predicted the extinction of the fox, like the dodo, 42 years before the event.

Rockhopper Penguin, Rockhopper Point, Sealion Island

Rockhopper Penguins, Sealion Island

Macaroni Penguin, Pebble Island

King Penguins, Volunteer Point, East Falkland Island

Gentoo Penguin, Pebble Island

Gentoo Penguin Colony & Falkland Island Skua, Sealion Islan

Falkland Island Skua And Gentoo Foot, Sealion Islan

King Penguin Colony, Volunteer Point, East Falkland Island

Imperial Shags, Pebble Island

Striated Caracara & Upland Gosling, Sealion Island

Striated Caracara (immature), Sealion Island

Peregrine Falcon On Burnt Tussock Root, Pebble Island

Long-tailed Meadowlark On Gorse, Sapper Hill

Variable Hawk/redbacked Hawk Buzzard, Pebble Island

Orca, Sealion Island

Black Crowned Night Heron Adult, Sealion Island

Cobb’s Wren, Sealion Island

Elephant Seals Basking, Sealion Island

Elephant Seal Bull, Sealion Island

Falkland Islands Streamer Duck, Sealion Island

Elephant Seals And Orca, 4am,sealion Island

Sealions, Sealion Island

Dolphin Gull, Sealion Island

Variable Hawk/ Redbacked Hawk Buzzard, Adult Female, Pebble Island

Falkland Islands Tern, Sealion Island

Black-chinned Siskin, Port Stanley

Ironically, the three month long Falkland Islands-Malvinas war (1982) put the Falklands on the world map. Successive British governments invested heavily in the Island. The 30year legacy of a conflict that saw the combined loss of life at 907, has greatly benefited the island’s economy. Since the 1764 habitation of these desolate, treeless, windswept islands began the original economy, based on penguin, seal and whaling products. Evolving into a wool and mutton economy in 1852. Subsequently the agrarian economy has been overtaken by the influx of foreign fishing quota sales in 1987 with the 150 mile fishing zone for squid and finfish, which developed immediately after the 1982 war. Eco and military tourism are now significant aspects of the Falklands economy. Oil might soon follow?

150 years of sheep farming created its own set of ecological problems with numbers peaking at 807,000 sheep on the Falklands in 1898. Tussock and native flora were either burnt or eaten for pasture to the extent of 80% of the original tussock eradication, before the ecological importance of that grass was realised. With the eradication of sheep from certain Islands as well as creating rat free islands, the return of breeding birds was an eventual eco tourist boom. On islands where there has never been grazing or habitation nor introduced predators, such as Beauchene Island well over 100,000 pairs of Black-browed Albatross breed; 200,000 on Steeple Jason Island, incidentally owned by the Wildlife conservation Society/Bronx Zoo, of New York.

The full long term effects of climate change on fish stocks, (decimation of Antarctic krill), in the South Atlantic Ocean and the knock-on effects on breeding birds inclusive of the 5 penguin species on the Falkland Islands is widely recorded, speculated, but unknown. I witnessed Zimbabwe mine clearing specialists, with the aide of mine-smelling rats, attempting to remove the 20,000 odd Argentinian mines, which still blight the landscape 30 years after the conflict. Red and white DANGER MINES! signs lie immediately behind the last houses of Port Stanley off the road to Sapper Hill blighting the pristine landscape. At present, barring a second Argentinian invasion, the Falklands is an almost sustainable island archipelago. No doubt when hydrocarbons are found in viable quantities, the entire economy will once again change exponentially. The Falklands 2500 odd citizens, already with the highest standard of living in South America could become per capita even richer than Qatar? How much habitat destruction will occur in pursuit thereof and the inevitable resultant oil accidents, similar to the Gulf of Mexico 2010 catastrophe, is not idle speculation. However, if the oil industry evolves, the Falklander’s themselves would be totally sustainable. I predict they will have a referendum on their own future, become independent and pay Westminster for their own far flung defence? They have never had it so good.